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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Astoria, London

Tuesday December 14th, 2004 - by kllo-yotta-deluxe guest writer Nick Morgan

It’s almost a year to the day since I was last in the Astoria – then as now to see that most peculiarly British rock and roll band, the Alabama 3. Twelve months on and a few things have changed.

Last time I had ‘flu – this time its going to creep up on me in a few days (so hence the late review Serge, for which I apologise). Last time we were deep in the Pit with the Coldharbour Lane Crew (most of whom seemed to be medicated with something stronger than my Beecham’s Powders). The south London crowd are here in force tonight too, but with them are a lot of people who have come a very long way for this gig. Last time it was the last night of a fairly long UK tour. Tonight is a one–off ‘Christmas Special’ – and as it turns out the show is being recorded and filmed. Last time the sound was Astoria-crap. It's much better tonight – aided by our position overlooking the pit just to the right of the mixing-desk. And last time joint front man D. Wayne Love was a shambling incoherent mess. Tonight – well, he’s a shambling lucid and highly articulate mess. As he confides to the audience early in the second of this two-set gig, “I don’t mean to sound Parochialist, but I’m buzzing!”
  Now, let me tell you about the Alabama 3. First – they’re not from Alabama. Sort of Brixton via the Celtic fringes of industrial Wales and Scotland. And there aren’t three of them. More like eight plus various support musicians, singers and ‘performers’ (more of that later). And the style? In their own words – “sweet pretty country acid-house music”. Actually it’s a lot more than that – but if you’ve never heard them – or tried once and switched off – you need to understand that they approach most of their songs with the same compelling recipe that produces a sort of layer cake of sound.
First its Tekno style samples and loops (the first song, ‘I’m Johnny Cash’ was introduced by a long Moby style sample of Robert Johnson’s ‘Me and the Devil’). Then drummer L. B. Dope and percussionist Sir Real Love. At this point gently sprinkle some harmonica (from The Mountain of Love – who also does most of the samples – I think) and add a little keyboard (by the wraith-like and chain-smoking Spirit of Love). Then bring in the bass (Segs, ex punk band The Ruts) – which it has to be said really hits your chest like a jackhammer – and guitarist Rock Freebase, who works his way through a series of feisty Telecasters (including a beautiful Telecaster Thinline – see it here). And finally sprinkle lightly with lead singer Larry Love (whose gyrations speak loudly of a sustained dose of cod-liver oil tablets, and who makes Nick Cave look like a nicotine abstainer) and singer, rapper, narrator and general philosopher on the state of the world, The Reverend D. Wayne Love. And there you have it. Did I mention the daft names?
We get almost two and half-hours of songs spanning the A3’s four ‘official’ albums, and then a number scheduled for inclusion on the forthcoming album Outlaw. Highlights? Too many to mention, but of course including ‘I’m Johnny Cash’, ‘REHAB’, ‘Bullet Proof’, ‘Hypo full of love’, ‘Ain’t goin’ to Goa’, ‘A Heaven somewhere’, ‘Speed of the sound of loneliness’, ‘Mao Tse Tung’, ‘Peace in the Valley’ – almost everything that any A3 fanatic could have wished for. And more …
The A3 aren’t just funky – they’re painfully and artfully funny. But they don’t pull their punches either. Subtle their politics may not be – but their sometimes uncompromising messages, picked up from a ragbag of influences, ring through loudly and sincerely (folks) in their songs. ‘Let the caged bird sing’ is a real classic. And so is ‘Woody Guthrie’, which opens the second set with a wonderful agitprop set-piece (ah yes, brothers and sisters, just like the good old days!); slinky red-robed burlesque stripper at the front of the stage, Palestinian (and other) women freedom fighters projected on the rear screen, ‘sing a song for the asylum seeker - for the frightened baby on some foreign beach’ (which, ignoring the rather offensive final line of the song about marketeers - how could they? - puts me in mind of a great read for Christmas – for those who are interested in more reality than Whisky Scotland often seems to represent – have a go at Ian Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close).
The great cause of the A3 is their fight against miscarriages of justice – Birmingham Six (no – its not another band) member Paddy Hill toured with them last year. This year they raise a slightly different question – which is when do criminals become folk-heroes? The song – no doubt destined for Outlaw – is in praise of Britain’s Great Train Robbery and in particular its mastermind Bruce Reynolds. And guess who joins D. Wayne on stage to rap his way through a long list of villains, some home grown, others not? A rather bewildered (if not disequilibriated) Bruce Reynolds himself.  
Reynolds was a known admirer of Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall gang – the original great train robbers – so there’s a sort of symmetry at work here. He ends by addressing the audience “We used to ‘av our own train robbers in Engerland, they’re all geriatrix nah, but no one eva writes songs abaaat ‘em”. Well – they do now; and no one should be in doubt of the likely theme of Outlaw.
And all the time the beat pounds, the bass bounces off your chest, and the harmonica wails. Lights flash – dollar bills (issued by the United Sates of the Alabama 3) flutter to the floor from the packed balconies. Larry Love works the audience up to a frenzy (us included I’m ashamed to say) – “Just dance for the fuckin’ cameras will you – you’ll all be on fuckin’ TV”. D. Wayne rails against J. Edgar Hoover (who did sell acid for the FBI?) worries about his hair and is wordperfect – when he needs to be. The Spirit lights up – again. “Whisky flows like the crystal streams they say flow in heaven…” Its almost a bit too much but then they crash to an end with what ended up sounding like a full-on version of ‘Last train to Mashville’. “Happy fuckin’ Christmas” leers a departing Larry. Last to leave the stage, D. Wayne invites us all to a party in Brixton “where you can meet the real me in person”, and true to his word there’s an already overcrowded bus outside in the street waiting to take the unwary to meet their fate … - Nick Morgan (photos by Kate).

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